At least 20,000 Centrelink debts were either wiped or reduced in a nine-month period, newly released figures show, The Guardian reports.
The data, tabled in parliament lastweek, confirms what was already known about extent of problems with the so-called “robo debt” system.
It shows 7,456 debts were reduced to zero and another 12,524 were partially reduced but not wiped entirely, between July last year and March.
For the first time, the data gives a geographic understanding of where debts were issued. It shows high numbers of inaccurate debts in areas of western Sydney, Bundaberg, Mackay, Toowoomba, the New South Wales central coast and around Cranbourne in Melbourne’s south-eastern fringes.
Outer suburbs of the Gold Coast, Hervey Bay and Ipswich in Queensland were also listed in the top 20, as were Ballarat and Werribee in Victoria.
But lawyers have warned the statistics do not give a complete picture. The data only reflects debts where a review or appeal took place.
Victoria Legal Aid’s executive director of civil justice, Dan Nicholson, said the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups were less likely to have appealed.
“I think on the face of it, it’s a shocking number of wrong debts to be alleged but in fact the most concerning thing is the very large number of people who would not have challenged their debts, and would now be paying back debts that were wrongly or unlawfully raised against them,” Nicholson said.
“We know those people are most likely to be the most disadvantaged in the community, and therefore the people that it may affect the most.”